The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the workforce upside down. While all employees are adjusting to the “new normal”, evidence and anecdotes show that in the majority of households, working moms are the ones having to shoulder the heaviest burdens. As BizJournals.com reports, “A new study published online this month in Gender, Work and Organization finds mothers’ working hours fell four to five times as much as fathers’ working hours between March and April. With schools and daycares closed, mothers worked about 5% less — amounting to about two hours per week — while fathers’ hours generally stayed the same.” And the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the University College London Institute for Education found that among parents working from home, moms are the ones more likely to care for kids as fathers. According to their findings, “Where focused work time is important for performance, gender differences in interruptions and multitasking risk further increasing the gender wage gap among parents,” researchers wrote. “
If you’re an employer, how do you help your working moms? Forbes contributor Andie Kramer has four tips for employers:
- Reassess workflows, deadlines and productivity expectations. Employers need to obtain accurate information about their employees’ personal situations. It is no longer realistic to assume—or to set performance expectations based on the assumption—that employees can compartmentalize their lives by separating their job-time from their care-time. As women’s professional lives unavoidably blur into their personal lives, employers must adjust their productivity demands so as not to unduly increase anxiety, stress, and burnout. How best to do this will vary from organization to organization and individual to individual. But in all cases doing it effectively will depend on employers carefully reassessing priorities, focusing clearly on what really matters, and asking employees to do the best they can, not an arbitrary amount of work.
- Redouble efforts to eliminate gender bias, promote inclusiveness, and assure assignment, evaluation, and compensation practices are discrimination-free. With employees not working together in an office, it is now much easier for managers to turn primarily to those they know best—and are most like them—for career-enhancing assignments, input on tactical and strategic decisions, and service in key management roles. Likewise, invitations to participate in informal networking opportunities and career mentoring and advice may only be extended to these “similar” people—that is, other men. Therefore, organizations need to make special efforts during these unprecedented times to be sure women, and particularly mothers, are not “out of sight, out of mind.” Their objective should not be to increase women’s workload, but to prevent them from feeling—and actually being—excluded, unappreciated or unfairly treated. Now more than ever, organizations should be striving to foster a truly inclusive workplace culture. In an era of working from home and digital communication, this requires more diligence and effort than usual, but accomplishing it will make the difference between losing and retaining the most talented women.
- Be sure women’s childcare responsibilities are recognized and valued—and not a source of discrimination. Men are generally admired and applauded when they become fathers and are seen to be active in providing childcare; it is quite the reverse for women. Once women have children, they are often viewed as less competent and less committed to their careers than women without children and men with or without children. Given the near-certainty that children’s presence, needs, and demands will become apparent when mothers are communicating with Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams, the bias against working mothers can be easily triggered. Organizations, therefore, need to educate their employees, particularly their managers, about this motherhood bias, why it is unacceptable, and how it can be avoided. Then, they need to monitor personnel decisions to be certain the discriminatory consequences of this bias are being avoided.
- Reach out to mothers with a message of encouragement and support. If the mothers in your organization are like most mothers with careers, they are feeling intense pressure to drop out, drop back, go part-time, or just perform their jobs or childcare—or both—halfheartedly. These women need and deserve to know how important, valued and admired they are. It isn’t a matter of extra compensation—right now, money can’t buy daycare, schooling or third-party childcare—but rather of providing consistent, sincere emotional and professional support. Managers should be reaching out to each mother who reports to them to inquire about how they are doing, what they need that the organization can provide—time off, reduced hours, better WIFI?—and a message that their situation is understood and their dedication appreciated. The goal should be to encourage them to hang in there because they are highly valued and have a promising career ahead of them at this organization.
I hope these tips can help you support your employees. As a working mom myself, I know how difficult this time is. It’s difficult for us all. If you need help with your workload, reach out to us. We’ll help you find out which of our services is right for you. Whether it’s process management, bookkeeping, or virtual administration, we’ve got the tools to help you.